Roy Keane is not Paul Pogba’s biggest fan.
For an £89million signing, the French World Cup winner simply hasn’t done enough on the field in his five years at Old Trafford, with background noise from Mino Raiola and contract stand-offs adding further to the frustration.
To be fair to Keane, his views will be shared by sections of the United fan base, though it’s undeniable that United have been better this season with Pogba in the team than they have without him.
“I’d also go for Grealish – I think United are still short of that special player, I think Grealish would give them that. He’d enjoy playing at Old Trafford, I think the fans would love him,” Keane declared on Sunday, in the off-script conversation that filled Sky Sports’ channels after United‘s clash with Liverpool was initially delayed before being postponed.
“What I admire about Jack, I think he’s got great courage on a football pitch, he’s great in tight areas, over the last year or two, his end product has improved, he’s an excellent player.
“I think Jack would be ready for Man United. Villa are a big club and they’re doing very well, but I think Jack, we talk about players being selfish, Harry Kane being selfish – well, Jack has to be selfish and look to step up to the next level.”
No manager has solved the conundrum of how to maximise Pogba’s impact on the team yet, though Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is enjoying success using the 28-year-old from a wide-left role.
Pogba seems to enjoy the additional freedom afforded in that position, where he can drift into pockets of space and link with Bruno Fernandes, without the restraints of defensive responsibility as Scott McTominay and Fred sweep up behind him.
The impact on the rest of the attack, most notably Marcus Rashford, remains a huge problem though. Rashford’s favoured and most effective position is coming from the left-flank and Pogba’s inclusion in that role also forces Mason Greenwood out of the starting XI.
Right-wing has been a problem position for a number of years and that’s why the club are not ruling out renewing their pursuit of Jadon Sancho, who may be available for a much cheaper fee than he was 12 months ago.
Whether United swapped Pogba for Aston Villa captain Jack Grealish, as Keane boldly declared he would do “tomorrow”, the same tactical conundrum arises (we’re not sure how appealing Pogba would find a move to Villa Park anyway). The Football Manager-style recruitment drive is what brought Alexis Sanchez, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Angel Di Maria to Old Trafford.
Keane is right in a few aspects. Grealish is a crowd-pleaser, who would get United fans off their feet.
However, fitting him into the team would bring the same problems. If he played from the left, United would be faced with the same issues as they have with Pogba. Centrally, he could only operate in the same role as Bruno Fernandes. That’s not to mention the almighty price tag slapped on him by Aston Villa.
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Either way, the team would look unbalanced. That’s been the issue when Pogba, Fernandes, McTominay and Fred have played together and signing Grealish would only add to those issues. The argument that ‘you can never have too many quality players’ doesn’t ride in the modern era, as illustrated by Donny van de Beek’s struggles in his debut campaign.
As has been the case with so many signings post-Sir Alex Ferguson – right player, wrong time. United have moved away from that scattergun approach under Solskjaer and have benefitted massively.
Instead, a creative box-to-box midfielder, with the ability to break down deep defences and the defensive discipline to play with Fernandes and one of Fred or McTominay would bring a far better balance.